W.S. Graham

W.S. Graham

This is an introduction to the work of the Scottish poet William Sydney Graham. Graham is best known for his long poem 'The Nightfishing' (1955), and for the poems contained in the volumes Malcolm Mooney's Land (1970) and Implements in Their Places (1977), explorations of language and community which move easily between playful charm and deep feeling. The exuberant wordplay of his early work, owing something to both Dylan Thomas and James Joyce, is currently unfashionable, but worth rediscovering.

Graham's New Collected Poems edited by Matthew Francis with a Foreword by Douglas Dunn is out now from Faber. Meanwhile, two critical books have appeared, confirming the continuing posthumous growth of Graham's reputation: W.S. Graham: Speaking Towards You, a collection of essays edited by Ralph Pite and Hester Jones is published by Liverpool University Press, and Where the People Are: Language and Community in the Poetry of W.S. Graham, a study by Matthew Francis, has just come out from Salt Publishing.

T.S. Eliot wrote of his work:

Some of these poems - by their sustained power, their emotional depth and maturity and their superb technical skill - may well be among the more important poetical achievements of our time.
And Harold Pinter recalled:
I first read a W.S. Graham poem in 1949. It sent a shiver down my spine. Forty-five years later nothing has changed. His work is unique and his song an inspiration.

Graham was born in Greenock in 1918. His father was a shipyard engineer, and he was apprenticed as a draughtsman in the same industry. However, after attending evening classes at Glasgow University and spending a year studying literature and philosophy as a residential student at a Working Men's College, he committed himself to a career as a poet. So great was this commitment that he chose not to take any other employment, and lived frugally for the rest of his life on the meagre proceeds of his writing and the support of friends and patrons. His first collection of poems, Cage Without Grievance, was published in 1942, and six other collections followed before the publication of Collected Poems in 1979. In 1954, he married Nessie Dunsmuir. He spent most of his life in Cornwall where he was friendly with the modernist painters of the St Ives school, especially Bryan Wynter and Roger Hilton. He died in 1986 at the age of 67.


Dates in brackets are those of first publication in book form.

O Gentle Queen of the Afternoon (1942)

Shian Bay and Gigha (1949)

Listen. Put on Morning (1949)

Letter VI (1955)

The Beast in the Space (1970)

The Constructed Space (1970)

I Leave This At Your Ear (1970)

Imagine a Forest (1977)

To Alexander Graham (1977)

Poems reproduced by kind permission of The Estate of W.S. Graham and Faber and Faber Ltd.


Photograph of W.S. Graham copyright © Michael Seward Snow, 2000.

Thanks to Michael and Margaret Snow for their help with this site.

For copyright permissions and biographical information, please apply to:

          Michael Snow
          W.S. Graham Estate
          c/o Faber and Faber Ltd
          Bloomsbury House
          74-77 Great Russell Street
          London WC1B 3DA
          United Kingdom

Graham Links

Carcanet Press - Publishers of The Nightfisherman, a selection of Graham's letters

Andrew Crumey - The Scottish writer's information on Graham

Faber and Faber - Publishers of Graham's Selected Poems and New Collected Poems

Matthew Francis - Owner of this site

Guardian - Andrew Motion's review of New Collected Poems

Jacket Magazine - Peter Riley's review of New Collected Poems and Where the People Are

Liverpool University Press - Publishers of W.S. Graham: Speaking Towards You

Observer - John Kinsella's review of New Collected Poems

Harold Pinter - The late Nobel laureate was a lifelong Graham admirer

Salt Publishing - Publishers of Where the People Are

Shearsman - Brief review of New Collected Poems